New Michael Twitty Memoir Nourishes Like a Recovery Meal

‘Koshersoul’ highlights the long-lasting links between African and Jewish cuisines.

Michael Twitty calls this his Eat Pray Love moment. In the James Beard-award winning author’s first culinary memoir, The Cooking Gene, Twitty made a table setting for his enslaved ancestors and their descendants who, despite shaping and driving Southern American cuisine, never received due recognition for their contributions.

Now, Koshersoul serves as the food scholar’s follow-up, intended to be the second in an eventual trilogy, where Twitty sets a place for himself as a gay Black Jewish man of Southern heritage, inviting readers along as he highlights the culinary intersections and conflicts between his vast identities.

He sees this latest installment as an extended unfurling of the kitchens, plates, ingredients, rabbis, pastors, and chefs that have shaped his journey.

“The attitude we typically get is, ‘Okay, creative minority, tell me all your secrets, but I don’t really want to hear about the rest of your life,’” Twitty explains. “But when we say the phrase Black Lives Matter, we’re not just referring to tragedy and trauma. We’re referring to the lived experiences of Black people—Black humor, Black sorrow, Black joy, Black excellence, Black celebration, Black everyday existence.”

Photo by Johnny Shryock

“We deserve to have that part of our existence known, and for Jews of color, it can’t always be, ‘How’d you get here? Who are you? Are you valid?’ How about this? Let me just show you how I be and you vibe on that.”

Koshersoul accomplishes this, interchangeably referencing the Torah and African proverbs, capturing vulnerable conversations between fellow Jews of color, and filling in gaps of historic discourse that demonstrate deep, pre-colonial ties between Africans and Jews. And yes, there is trauma, which Twitty doesn’t gloss over, instead pointing out how conflict itself is capable of birthing cuisines.

“America has had a war of violence and extraction with Black people since its conception,” Twitty asserts. “With Jewishness, it’s similar, but not quite the same. There’s an idea of a stain, an imbued negativity that if we could just convert it out, everything would be cool. In the middle of all of that, people have to survive. People have to eat and people have to feed their children.”

Twitty continues, “We use food to love each other and to sustain each other, because the world is hateful, mean, will call us names, and hurt us. And so at least maybe, maybe if we control the variables at home and other communal spaces, we can feel love, encouragement, and empowerment. Those foods are not just foods. They tell stories about the places we’ve been.”

For Twitty, that includes an upbringing in Washington, DC, where the author first became intrigued by traditional foodways after a field trip to Colonial Williamsburg. He launched his culinary blog Afroculinaria in 2010, endeavoring to highlight how racism impacts Southern cuisine and the African Americans who helped shape it.

Michael Twitty
Photo by Johnny Shryock

This work was solidified with the release of The Cooking Gene in 2017, where Twitty combines his own genealogical research with historical evidence to demonstrate the African influence across American cuisines. Though he was raised Christian, Twitty converted to Judaism in his mid 20s, which sent him on a new yet familiar journey to understand his faith through the lens of food—the thorough documentation of Jewish cuisines inspired Twitty to do the same for African American, Southern, and now, African American Jewish cuisine.

To reduce these intersections into “fusion” would be a great disservice—in fact, Twitty dashes such hopes in the first pages of his memoir, sharing his original dismay at the lack of obvious overlap in other Black Jewish kitchens. “The goal of this book became to remove all labels, not create another,” he writes.

Some of this is depicted in Chapter 14, “The Cuisine of the Chocolate Chosen: Cooking Black and Jewish, a Kitchen Table Kibbitz.” But mostly Twitty takes it as an opportunity to show how other Black and African Jews are subverting kosher and soul cuisine in their home kitchens, swapping ham hocks for turkey necks and in Ghana, making latkes with plantains instead of potatoes. His amalgamated Koshersoul represents less of a fixed definition and more of a catch-all term to describe his unique experiences.
Photo by Johnny Shryock

While Koshersoul rejects the categorization of cookbook, Twitty includes an epilogue with enough recipes to keep your Shabbat and Sunday dinner spreads fresh well into Rosh Hashanah, or whenever you flip your calendar to a new year. Here, Twitty takes readers to Charleston for Koshersoul Collards, to Eastern Europe for kugel, to Ethiopia for Berbere Brisket, and to Israel for couscous (or millet) salad, demonstrating how much richer our palates become when we open ourselves to new approaches and styles.

“The millet salad is based on frugality and leftovers, reminding us of what we have,” Twitty shares. “We’re taxed and still pushing back against an attempt to take it all away. So why not just take what we have, be responsible, be sustainable, and take a breath? It’s vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free, and you can make it with couscous or millet grains, or both. Put that together and share it with people—something that communalizes, something that brings people together, something that makes people feel at home, and family.”

If The Cooking Gene was a necessary aperitif, stimulating public discourse about the origins of American food, Twitty positions Koshersoul as our recovery food. There’s something about being witnessed and celebrated—particularly when it follows a lineage of erasure and marginalization—that’s satiating, soothing from the inside. It offers hope, which Twitty reflects, often shows up as curiosity about what we’ll be eating next.

“We like to believe we have a future,” Twitty says. “We strive to believe there’s a tomorrow. So often, for our people, there has not been. So how do we make it present? How do we talk it into existence? We talk about that next meal we can’t wait to have.”

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Danielle Dorsey is the West Coast Editor for Thrillist.